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How to Tackle Trackers on Your Phone

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By now, you’ve probably realized that your phone uses your location to deliver some services to you. Apps like Google Maps wouldn’t work at all if they didn’t track your location. And while you may be comfortable with some location tracking, it’s doubtful you’re okay with advertisers using your phone’s location to send you targeted ads. Even more worrisome than advertisers are hackers who install tracking software on your phone without your knowing to possibly stalk you.

Since you understand what a big deal location tracking is on your smartphone or mobile device, you can take steps to prevent unwanted trackers from following you around. Blocking these trackers isn’t just about privacy from snooping advertisers, it’s about protecting your personal safety.

What can you do to prevent trackers from getting your location info?

All it takes is changing a few settings in your phone to keep companies from getting your location data. Follow these tips for keeping your location data private:

1. Turn off your device’s location services

You can stop your device from tracking your location at all by turning off location services in the settings. This will restrict all apps from accessing your location, including maps. If you need to use a GPS app to get directions, you can simply switch your location services back on for your trip, then switch them off again. Both Android and iOS also allow you to toggle off the “Significant Locations” feature, which keeps track of the places you visit the most.

2. Limit personalized ads

If you don’t want to completely switch off your location services, you can limit personalized ad targeting. On iOS, go to Settings > Privacy > Apple Advertising > toggle Personalized Ads to off. On Android, go to Settings > Google > Ads > toggle on Opt out of ads personalization.

3. Limit ad tracking in all your accounts

Any online account you’ve created and subsequently signed into on your phone will have certain permissions and preferences. While not a blanket fix like turning off location services, going through each app’s settings and opting out of personalized ad tracking can help cut down on tracking. Also, when you download a new app and it asks for certain permissions, don’t allow it access to your location.

4. Use a private browser

When you use a web browser on your phone, launch a private window, or incognito mode as it’s called on Chrome. Private modes erase browsing history and passwords after you close them. You can also use search engines that don’t track your activity as heavily, such as DuckDuckGo.

5. iPhone tips

If you have an iPhone, there are a few iOS-specific tips that will help you avoid ad tracking. The first thing you can do is block cookies in Safari by going to Settings > Safari > Privacy & Security > turn on Block All Cookies. While you’re at it, toggle on Prevent Cross-Site Tracking as well. You can also turn off background app refresh, a feature which allows apps to collect marketable data even when you’re not using them.

The darker side of tracking

Although advertisers are a big concern when it comes to location tracking, hackers may also be interested in knowing your smartphone’s location as well. It’s much easier than you think for someone to start clandestinely tracking your phone’s location. But you can also detect if your phone has a tracking app installed, and take steps to remove it.

Signs your phone is running tracking software you don’t know about

  • Your phone’s battery life seems much weaker than usual
  • Your phone lights up when you aren’t using it
  • You can’t shut the phone off or it stays lit even after you’ve powered it down
  • You see a suspicious program running in the background when you check which apps are running
  • Your phone’s performance declines or it gets slower as you’re browsing the Internet
  • Your phone shows you that you have free storage space available but you can’t access it

How might someone download a tracking app on your phone? The person keeping tabs on you could easily be someone you know — a parent, an ex, or a friend that may have had physical access to your phone. If you’ve spotted any of the above signs on your smartphone and have reason to believe you’re being tracked, consider taking some of the following steps.

  1. Always update your phone: Updating firmware and software won’t get rid of a tracking program on your phone, but it will keep your phone more secure in the future and less likely to get hacked again.
  1. Check your phone for unfamiliar apps and delete: Look through your installed apps to see if there are any you don’t recognize. If you spot an unfamiliar one, try to delete it.
  1. Get an anti-malware app: If you have trouble deleting the tracking app, you can download an anti-malware app. Anti-malware apps scan your device for threats, then isolate and delete those threats. As with your phone’s firmware and software, you should keep your anti-malware app updated.
  1. Factory reset: If none of the previous solutions work to get rid of a tracking program on your phone, you can always do a factory reset to wipe your phone completely clean. You’ll lose all your data, but it will get rid of the tracking software.

Location tracking is annoying, a privacy invasion, and can even put your personal safety in danger. Keep advertisers and hackers from spying on you by following these tips for tackling trackers on your phone.

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